Laurissilva Futures Workshop

Possible futures and/or branches for a Madeiran specific Transmedia Experience, focussing on the potential of the Laurel forest.

Laura Silva – a fictional character, was developed by Valentina Nisi, Mara Dionisio and Julian Hanna – the Future Fabulators team from MITI, to transmit a locally inspired context-aware transmedia story. The story is being designed for and set in Ponta do Sol, a small village west of Funchal.

The name Laura Silva (the heroine of the multi-leveled story) refers to the Laurel Forest or “Laurisilva”, a vegetation type which was widespread in Southern Europe millions of years ago, plant communities that resemble the laurel (or bay) tree. The drying of the region since the Pliocene and cooling during the Ice Ages caused these rainforests to retreat. Some outstanding pockets of Laurasilva still exists, namely in Macaronesia in the eastern Atlantic, in particular on the Azores, Madeira Islands and Canary Islands, whereby the one in Madeira is the largest surviving area of it and is believed to be 90% primary forest. Laurel forests are characterised by their wealth of ecological niches, intact ecosystem processes and has, especially in Madeira, a predominate role in maintaining  hydrological balance, supplying all water needed for the whole island. Obviously displaying a highly pronounced biodiversity with more than 7500 terrestrial species and subspecies and at least 76 vascular plant species endemic to Madeira.

All this information (and even more) we have been able to gather during a brilliant lecture given by Dr. Susana Fontinha right after the first part of the workshop which comprised a “prototype experience walk” through Ponta do Sol.

During this walk Valentina, Mara & Julian lead us through a first current version (still “analogue”, meaning without any mobile devices) of their transmedia story to gather our feedback on the experience.

The story takes place in the 18th century, when Madeira used to be a busy port for transatlantic trading. Laura, growing up in an abbey develops a distinguished interest and knowledge of the unique forest plants and flowers. She acknowledges, probes and catalogues the specific curative power of the forest’s fauna. Allegedly she composes a comprehensive herbarium, replete with  illustrations and annotations to safeguard the medical importance of the plants for the public. Exactly this herbarium goes missing and becomes the center of the transmedia story.

Mara Dionisio - placing a marker indicating stored  memory (story-elements),  which in our case was not shown via a mobile device but being staged through Mara, Valentina and Julian

Mara Dionisio – placing a marker indicating stored memory (story-elements), which in our case was not shown via a mobile device but being staged through Mara, Valentina and Julian

Later on this first day of the workshop we departed to explore the Laurel forest directly. After a bit of a challenging bus drive through the windy, steep roads of Madeira and a short walk we found ourselves in the most beautiful center of the Laurisilva. During an hour-long stroll through the lush and moist green Susana Fontinha, Fabio Reis and Dina Henriques, from ISOplexis, the Genetics and Biotechnology research centre at the University of Madeira, kept us stunned with impressive details of the place.

The second day of workshop was facilitated by Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney from FoAM. All workshop participants – a great mixture of people with all sorts of different skills and know-how – focused on the possible role of the fictional herbarium within MITI’s story world.

Workshop Session 1

The first session was concentrating on the “what we know” about the Laurel forest – recalled from the day before as well as enhanced through the “real experts” of the topic like Susana, Fabio and Dina. In a next session we continued with the collection of aspects (drivers) which would influence the future trends of the forest, its biodiversity and thus Madeira and its population. Four possible frameworks – envisioning futures which entail either the growth, the collapse, the disciplining or the transformation of current developments in it, were worked out.

A next step was looking at these scenarios (we skipped the one based upon growth though) more deeply. In smaller groups we fleshed them out to somewhat more coherent stories and continued with focussing on the description and illustration of them in terms of attracting potential “future” tourists. The final step brought us back to the Laura Silva story – namely the end of her story in these fleshed out futures. What would have happened to the herbarium, who would keep it, who would have access to it, etc?We also sketched out possible consequences for the forest as such, Madeira in itself and Laura’s descendants.

All parts of these two days considered we plain and simple recall a great experience. Well structured, rich in diversity, wonderfully streaked with very immediate moments (outside walks / talks), information and creativity. Not to mention delicious food, delightful wine, great chats and lovely sunsets!

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